Mid-terms don’t usually warrant such a review, but I have been rolling over a fascinating idea in my mind about President Trump: He has revealed (or reminded) many great truths to us about human nature, history, media, tactics, manipulation, institutions, and the nation. By this, I don’t mean to imply he himself has spoken great truths; rather, that we can learn a great deal about many things simply from watching his effects on the world.[i]
If you doubt this to be true, then consider this short list truths revealed by Trump:
China: Your respect for the giant country of nearly 1.4 billion people should grow daily. While we are distracted by day-to-day nonsense, Chinese leaders think in terms of decades. They are playing a long, long game. Politicians there are smarter than here; just look at their surgical response to Trump’s tariffs. I wish we could adopt the best of their ideas – infrastructure and industrial policy – while still keeping our system of free market capitalism and personal liberty.
Trump has revealed how much better China is at this game than we are; they are the most likely country to succeed U.S. as the next great power in the world.
America is More Sexist than I would Have Guessed: Go figure, a guy didn’t realize how sexist America was. But take two universally disliked candidates, one an unlikeable but highly qualified woman, the other an unqualified but media savvy man. I should have seen this coming, but I guess it was my own sexism that I missed it. If Hillary was a dude, he would have won, maybe even in a landslide. Totally missed that courtesy of my own Y Chromosome. Thanks for the reveal, Donald.
Social Media: is toxic. Facebook is a clusterfuck of confirmation bias and stupidity; Twitter is too incompetent to police its own ranks – my best guess is somewhere between 25% and 50% of all accounts are bots, trolls, frauds and Russian scammers; Even YouTube is a mess of racism, sexism, and violence. The internet works well to bring together those former loners, giving them comfort to learn there are others who think like them.
From 2015 to the events since, you can thank Trump for revealing just how broken and fucked up social media has become.
America is Racist: As a white dude, I knew America was a little racist here and there. An undercurrent of racism coursed through the criticism President Obama faced; I assumed there was more racism but nothing grotesque.
I was wrong.
Trump’s long history of racism and of not being politically correct helped to reveal just how wrong I was – Racism is not even well-hidden or contained – it is prevalent in America. Again, my naïveté assumed it was only insane people shooting up black churches in the deep south.
Instead, we learned – thanks to Trump – that White Supremicists /Nationalism is a real thing across America, and full equality is still years or decades away for people of color.
Deficit (Chicken) Hawks: Do not care about fiscal responsibility or “the debt we are foisting on our grandchildren,” or even effective economic policy. So-called “Deficit Hawks” care about only one thing: using debt as a cudgel to hurt their political opponents and help themselves. The US could have used a giant stimulus in 2009, but that might have helped their political opponent. Mitch McConnell killed any thought of a multitrillion-dollar stimulus. The Fauxhawks all screamed deficits, despite this being the depths of the Great Recession, when the spend would have done the most good.
Instead, McConnell & Crew waited for 2017 to implement a trillion-dollar deficit funded tax cut. If you think “Party First, Nation Second” sounds like misplaced priorities, well you are right. Its border-line treason. Trump revealed the deficit hawks as full of chickenshit.[ii] And that Paul Ryan does not give a rat’s ass about the federal deficit.
America is Anti-Semitic: As a Jew, I should have known this. But I hardly experience antisemitism personally in and around NYC or when I travel within the US or to Europe.[iii] World War Two is over, and the Nazis lost, right? It is hard to believe a Nazi movement is rising in America when it should be dead and buried for 75 years. Yet prior to Trump, it was unimaginable to me that someone would shoot up a synagogue of Holocaust survivors in Pittsburgh because they were Jews.
Trump has revealed to all that Anti-Semitism is alive and well and growing in America.
Expertise Matters: It is a bit odd to listen to POTUS complain about his own appointees. Over the past year, he has trashed his own: Attorney General, Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, Transition Director, NSA Director, Federal Reserve Chairman, FBI Director, Federal Judges, CIA Chief, Military Generals ALL APPOINTED BY HIM.
Trump reveals how important it is to appoint highly qualified people of good character to lead important cabinet posts and government agencies.
Americans Are Charmingly (and occasionally Dangerously) Naïve: We are very willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true outside of the bigger cities where people liked a blunt message and were willing to give an unconventional approach a shot.
Why didn’t the “Elites” in NYC & DC take Trump seriously? It was not what you heard – not their Ivy League educations or wealth or their life in a bubble. If you live or work in the NYC area, you know people who either worked for Trump, you have heard the horror stories, have been stiffed by him, sued him (or was sued by him), or invested in his projects.[iv] His Real Estate frauds were legendary. Trump scams and frauds were so numerous, it was hard to keep up with them – not just the bankruptcies and failed casinos, it was also everything else he slapped his name on for a fee. Trump University, Trump Airlines, Trump magazine, even his book was not written by him.[v] EVERYONE HERE KNEW he was a grifter; it was simply assumed to be obvious to the rest of the country.
Trump is a billionaire city slicker who inherited his wealth, capitalized on his prior run for President, and had a terrible track record in how he has treated working men and woman. He convinced blue collar voters he was in their corner. Trump revealed P.T. Barnum as a prophet, insightful as to basic human condition.
Russia: When the Berlin Wall came down, and the peace dividend was going to drive the global economy, we all assumed that the evil Russia had gone away. That was a grand miscalculation, especially in the era of Putin. Russia is no longer the global superpower they once were, but instead wants to play the role of spoiler around the globe. Disruptive, vicious, and still large and rich enough to threaten Europe, Trump has revealed that the Russia as a country can still cause mayhem.
Evangelicals: I was always suspicious of them, but they turned out to be much creepier – and even more evil than I ever imagined. You cannot get into heaven if you make deal with the devil, and that is clearly the pact they made with Trump. How can you explain their ignoring his history of amorality? He has had multiple affairs, sexual liaisons, lies, cheats, steals, engages in tax fraud. Apparently, you must break all 10 commandments before these ethically bankrupt evangelicals will call you out. When a group of religious zealots start practicing “The ends justify the means” we all best pay attention, ‘cause bad shit is about to go down.
Trump revealed the evangelicals as frauds – they ignore the Bible, care more about power than saving souls, and are without shame or a moral center.
America has a Fox News Problem: When it comes to misinforming the American public about the important issues, none is better than Fox News. The “Fox News effect” is a real thing – their viewers are less informed than people who watch no news at all. More accurately, they are misinformed. Spare me the false equivalencies – Fox News plays by rules very different from the rest of the media. They are not constrained by facts; make few attempts at being empirical or data-based; they are a wing of the GOP. Trump has eliminated any doubts I may have had about this.
Human Nature: How easily we allow ourselves to be fooled. We have higher cognitive functions as individuals but in large groups, we are sheep.[vi] It does not take much to works our emotional buttons of greed and most especially fear. Events of the past month make that clear, as has Trump’s masterful manipulation of his base.
America’s Institutions: turn out to be much more resilient than previously believed. The Courts have shaken off the initial attacks; the FBI is surviving, as are the military and intelligence sectors. Even a nonfunctional congress functioned well enough to get the basics done. Our air and water can still be breathed and drunk. The Free Press is holding up; The private sector is fine; philanthropies are good. Every sector is slogging through better than one might have guessed. Even the US Constitution has laughed off attempts at treachery.
Trump certainly rocked many of these institutions via his norm violations, but once again, he has revealed a great truth to us: that American Institutions are stronger and more resilient than many of us might have imagined.
In all of these issues, I do not seek to blame Trump. Rather, I wish to acknowledge just how much his words and actions have revealed. It is only because of Trump that I have learned so much more about all of these things . . .
[i] There is no guile, just a super-natural tendency to appeal to people’s basest instincts – supporters, opponents, media, everyone. I have learned more about politics under Trump than Bush or Obama combined.
[ii] …but only to those who missed the George W. Bush administration’s unfunded tax cuts and war time spending
[iii] Online is something else
[iv] He has been a master bullshit artist his entire life, and that was not going to change simply because he became the Oval Office occupant. The Toronto Star and the Washington Post have kept track of his lies, and he is in a class by himself.
[v] Trump lost the district where Trump Tower is by more than 2 to 1 to Hillary Clinton ― and the 10-block condo development on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that bears Trump’s name on four buildings, he garnered only 20.9 percent of the vote versus 75.0 percent for Clinton. The Commentariat proclaimed this proof of Manhattan’s liberal leanings, but the better answer is those folks simply knew he was a grifter.
[vi] Recall the Milgram experiment: Subjects were told to shock – inflict pain – on a person in another room. Many went along with higher and higher voltages despite hearing shrieks of pain. It was incredible what those in a position of authority could get others to do.